A Long Look Behind the Scenes: Part 2

Continuing exploring the equipment I have used for my practice, this entry will explain the steps taken after buying a second-hand camera and lens. This is specifically in relation to modifying the tools so that they are suitable for use in the field.

My Graflex Speed Graphics field camera with Graflex Optar 150mm lens.

Upon further research, I discovered that the Speed Graphics cameras were once popular amongst press photographers (the famous photographer Weegee used such a camera in the 1930s and 1940s) partly because of its focal plane shutter. I confess I haven’t used this camera’s focal plane shutter yet, instead relying on the leaf shutter in the lens. This particular camera has a wire frame for composing images before shoots and a damaged rangefinder. It probably dates from the 1940s and, interestingly enough, has been painted black possibly for covert operations. I also find it fairly easy to use for a 5x4 camera due to its portable design. With the camera, I also bought a 150mm lens with an attached board and a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon lens. My next challenge was to find additional equipment such as a lens board for the 90mm lens and a thread for the camera to sit on the tripod.

The 90mm lens needed a board in order to fit on to the front of the camera.

The following images show the features of the Speed Graphics.

The camera closed up for easy carrying.
Camera fully open with wire frame
The back of the camera.
The ground glass on the back of the camera that I will use to compose my pictures.
I eventually found a thread for using the camera on a tripod. This is actually the second thread used, as the lip on the first was too big and lead to it coming out of the camera.

To use the Speed Graphics for landscape images a board was still needed for the 90mm lens to actually go on the camera. As lenses of such a focal length might not have existed when the camera was first built, or Super Angulon lenses were probably not compatible with the Speed Graphics, a lens board had to be found. The first board I bought was wooden and fit into the front of the camera, but wouldn’t stay in place as it was slightly thick. The second board made of aluminium was too thin and sat too loosely in the camera. The lens board obviously had to fit correctly to be light proof so an alternative was needed.

Having tried two different lens boards, I decided to make one from scratch. I bought a ring used to fit lenses to boards and some wood that was thick enough to keep the light out. A hole of the correct diameter was drilled into the middle and a lip was cut around the edge of the board. This particular stage was quite difficult because several attempts were made to get the lip to the correct thickness otherwise it would not properly sit in the front of the camera.

The lens board being fitted to the lens. The “T” (standing for “top”) indicates which way up the board would sit in relation to the lens.
The picture above shows the lens securely fastened to the board. The lip around the edge of the board was needed to be of the correct thickness to fit the camera.

Eventually, I finally managed to get the lens to perfectly fit to the camera. Unfortunately, the wide-angle lens attached to the camera prevented the Speed Graphics from closing because of its size. The only solution to this problem is to remove the lens when the camera is in transit.

The camera with the wide-angle lens.

With the lens board constructed, the last step was to paint it black for absolute protection from light. For this, I removed the board from the lens and covered it with a few coats of matt black paint (as glossy would be reflective). With the paint dried, I put the lens back on and took the camera out into the land to make pictures.

The Speed Graphics camera on an expedition. The camera is seen in this image mounted on a tripod with the 90mm lens and a shutter release cable attached. These are the tools that I am still currently utilising for my practice.